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Fourth-Quarter Report: Lots Of Action At Mile Zero

Southbound snowbirds occasionally
 have to pause to let a big boy pass.

Southbound snowbirds occasionally  have to pause to let a big boy pass.

Although you may be reading this in mid-October, the magazine’s November cover date brings back my New England mind-set, with visions of boats hauled and buttoned up for winter. But here at the bottom of the Bay, the last quarter of the year is still boating season. 

Photo of Peter Bass

Peter Bass

There is great cruising into November, and the peak season for striper fishing is just getting going. If you are still in the water and yearning for a longer season, come on down. If you fish, think about taking part in the December striper action with one of the many guiding outfits in this part of the world. 

Outboards: Back To The Future 

As kids, many of us had outboards on our first commands; I still dream of that 13-foot Boston Whaler, although my 60-something lower back twinges at the thought. Today, we may have a modest center console in our boating mix, but powerful modern outboards have changed the landscape for bigger hulls. Boating magazines are full of 40-plus-foot, multiengine canyon runners, and we see those builders offering cruise-friendly, family-oriented outboard designs up through 30-plus feet. 

The power, longevity and efficiency of today’s outboards is changing the cruising-boat scene at an accelerating rate. While diesels with straight shafts, pods or jets remain the gold standard on larger cruisers, the introduction of yachts such as MJM’s 35z and 43z show just how mainstream outboard-powered boats may become. Small-boat builders such as Cutwater and Ranger Tugs — long dedicated to diesels — are offering outboard power on models where diesels were formerly the standard. 

New fuel tanks and plumbing have quelled long-held fears of gasoline-related accidents, and advances in outboard noise suppression have kept pace with inboard advances. Outboards also get all that machinery out of the bilges. And the engines have become part of the styling statement, with custom paint jobs or the radical visuals on the big Evinrude E-TECs. While big outboards on bigger boats are not revolutionary to some, the rapid evolution going on is fun to watch. 

Gathering Of The Clans 

If history holds true, snowbirds and cruising rallies will gather around Mile Zero, waiting to head to sea or down the Ditch in early  

  November. This seasonal convergence is not due to celestial events or circadian rhythms, but rather the unofficial end of hurricane season on Nov. 1 and the concurrent constraints of insurance policies. 

I used to help deliver a lovely big yawl to the Virgin Islands each November, but for business reasons I missed the 1999 trip, when the crew spent several days trying to avoid the famously unpredictable track of “Wrong Way Lenny” as the storm meandered west to east. They were fine but had a couple of uncomfortable days zigzagging in the lee of Guadeloupe. 

This year’s impromptu Octoberfest promises to be a good one at Mile Zero, with the renovation of the Waterside complex on the Norfolk side and, on the other side, the recent opening of Legend Brewing’s Portsmouth Depot at the High Street ferry landing. Dig out my “Local Knowledge” article in the October issue for suggestions on how to while away the late-October days. 

A Boring Story 

I date my interest in the Chesapeake back to a National Geographic article about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in 1964, when the span opened. I was fascinated by it then and still find it an engineering marvel every time I cross it. It is seldom crowded, but many people come from the Norfolk side to First Island (the southwesternmost artificial island at Thimble Shoals Channel) to use the fishing pier and go to the restaurant. 

Because the four-lane bridge narrows to a two-lane tunnel at this point, and traffic gets on and off here, preparations are beginning in October to begin a second tunnel tube and expand First Island. Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2022. A cool animation of the tunnel-boring machine for this project is at (search keyword “TBM”). 

The Metal Whale 

One hazard of sailing offshore, besides encountering ships and whales, is colliding with a semisubmerged container. While your chances of striking one may sound like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, containers are a danger well known to a good friend who was holed while sailing trans-Atlantic. His experience ended safely after he stuffed and braced a variety of objects in the breach and limped into Newport, Rhode Island, but his story made me wonder: How many needles are there in that haystack? 

Journalist Robert McCabe, in The Virginian-Pilot, set out to quantify the number of containers lost at sea, including the occasional total loss of a ship, such as the El Faro. Conventional wisdom was that 10,000 containers are lost overboard from ships at sea each year, he reports, but that number is hard to quantify. Going by industry reports and extrapolating to smaller carriers that don’t report, the average could be as low as 1,500, although a maritime lawyer is quoted as saying that many lost containers simply aren’t reported in some parts of the world to avoid legal entanglements. 

Most containers sink, but there are enough out there to sink a yacht from time to time. So along with all the other safety items you take aboard for a safe passage, think about what you would need to fill a hole 1,000 miles from shore. One sailing friend of mine keeps a supply of Nerf footballs in a locker with just that in mind. 

October and November are usually a lively time at Mile Zero. I’ll miss the first couple of weeks while I attend the Annapolis boat shows, but I look forward to greeting the snowbirds when I return. It’s never dull at Mile Zero. See you at the bottom of the Bay, the top of the Ditch.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue.


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